A, B, or Contrasting: The Influence of a Learning Task on Neurophysiological Correlates of Feedback Processing

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Contrasting similar items has been proposed to enhance learning by increasing the specificity of mental representations. Since feedback is an important component of such tasks, the learning effect of contrasting might be partially related to the neurocognitive mechanisms of feedback processing. Previous electroencephalography (EEG) studies have demonstrated that the P300 and the feedback related negativity (FRN) can indicate whether an instance of feedback leads to successful learning. To investigate whether contrasting influences the effectiveness of feedback processing, we manipulated the orthographic similarity between the answer options on a three-choice vocabulary learning task. EEG was recorded, while participants learned 50 pseudo-translations to Italian words over six blocks. The learning outcome was determined via an immediate and a one-week delayed posttest. Results show better performance during the task for words that were presented with dissimilar distractors (shuffled condition), whereas posttest performance was higher for words that had been studied with similar answer options (sorted condition). The parietal P3b was larger for the sorted compared to the shuffled condition. A larger P3a and smaller FRN to negative feedback were associated with error correction. A larger P3a and smaller FRN to positive feedback were correlated with accuracy on the delayed recognition test. Most of these learning effects were only found for the sorted condition. This indicates that the similarity training might elicit improved memory encoding and attention reflected by the P300 amplitude, as well as enhanced utilization of valence feedback, reflected by the FRN amplitude. Taken together, the results suggest that the memory advantage of contrasting might partially be due to enhanced feedback processing. However, due to the limited sample size (as a result of the corona crisis), no definite conclusions can be drawn, and additional research is needed to corroborate these findings. Keywords Feedback processing, event-related potentials, declarative learning, orthographic similarity
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